“Let’s not be narrow, nasty, and negative.” T. S. Eliot
I have a group of choral colleagues I regularly contact for their Choral Ethics opinions and help with the Choral Ethics Project. I admire these folks and think they are fine examples of what it means to be an Ethical Choral Professional because I’ve worked with them or have known them for a while. Usually I send a list of questions/situations and ask for their solutions or perhaps how they handled something similar in their own career. I also encourage them to tell me about a sticky situation (and how they handled it) with the deadline for getting back to me open-ended and the opportunity for them to have someone to vent to. Last summer, Ross* contacted me, after my usual group email, wanting to vent. And he definitely has good reason.
Twice in his life Ross has personally witnessed outgoing conductors try to make life difficult for the people who followed. At one of his first positions, the choral director (who was adjunct) was not hired for the full-time position when it was created. She felt like it was due to her successes that there was a full-time position at all and promptly convinced students to attend different schools, or not join choir. He was left with a choir of two people to direct (a duet) and told to recruit. And Ross tells me it was without irony he was told to recruit.
More recently, his predecessor at his current position (let’s call him Jack*) retired, but when he did, he took the entire community chorus with him. In his defense, Jack had personally built up that chorus from 17 people to 125 over the course of his 25 year career, so Ross is sure Jack felt like it was his baby. But why couldn’t Jack make it his legacy? When he convinced the entire organization to relocate to the umbrella of another institution, he decimated the choral program at the school he was leaving. Actually decimated is too gentle a word, as it actually means to eliminate one in ten; Jack almost eradicated it. The choral program went (over the course of a summer) from 140 strong to 20. This choral program will take years to recover from that loss, if it ever does.
Ross wonders; if you choose to leave a position for your own reasons, how can you not at least try, in the spirit of collegiality, to set up your successor for success? It seems suspiciously as if some conductors are not motivated by their love for the art but rather for their own fame and glory, to the extent that they would jealously guard their own territory as if another’s success would threaten their own.
I would agree with Ross about it not being about the music in cases such as he relates. And some of our colleagues in the greater choral world believe ANYONE’S success diminishes theirs, not just their successors.
Josie*, a lovely person, directs a lovely community chorus in a lovely town. There is another chorus, just as lovely, one town over from hers but the director of that chorus isn’t so lovely. Their director, Alissa*, does whatever she can to make Josie look bad from choosing similar repertoire to changing their rehearsal night from Mondays to Tuesdays (Josie’s night) so singers cannot participate in both groups. Alissa bad mouths Josie every chance she gets, including inferring she’s a bad musician.
Alissa keeps mentioning to her singers Josie’s chorus is “on its last legs” and “isn’t what it used to be.” Of course, this gets back to Josie and her chorus. Alissa tells anyone who will listen she is willing to “step into the breach” when Josie’s chorus folds up, which should be soon. Nothing could be further from the truth, since Josie’s chorus is healthy financially and has 50 more singers than Alissa’s. But all this gossip and nastiness tires Josie out. She is convinced if she does or says anything, she will be sinking to Alissa’s level and doesn’t want that.
Josie believes it should be about the music and not anything else. I do too; the music is what should drive us, shouldn’t it?